Growing businesses is tough work. We know, because we’re still at it. And we’re curious about what it means to start your own thing and make it grow. The Founders Files series talks to founders, entrepreneurs, doers, and makers about scaling up & pressing on.
Very, very few people manage to make a name for themselves at the top of their respective fields. One of them is Adam Mendler, whose ‘field’ is admittedly pretty wide. He’s a CEO and leadership guru, but you’re most likely to know him from his podcast 30 Minute Mentors, where he’s interviewed a colorful cast of high profile guests - Randy Jackson, Gary Noesner, Admiral James Stavridis, Anthony Scaramucci, Brad Feld, and Dr. Gary Michelson, just to name a few.
What I’ve come to appreciate about Adam’s work as an interviewer of the ‘rich-and-famous’ is how comfortable he seems to be with a nebulous definition of success. And how he balances authority (I mean, not just anybody gets to chat with billionaires) with down-to-earth pragmatism.
In this installment of our Founder Files series, he shares with us how his multi-threaded professional life weaves together & distills some of the lessons learned over his years as a creator and part-time professional listener.
Tell me a bit about your business. Why did you start it and what do you do?
We have a few different businesses and they are in different fields. One business is Beverly Hills Chairs; we are the leading sellers of refurbished brand name office chairs, including Herman Miller Aeron chairs.
Another business is Custom Tobacco; we created a platform where customers create fully-customized private-label cigars in real time. We have a technology consulting and software development firm too.
I also do a lot of writing and speaking on leadership and related topics, which led me to create a podcast, Thirty Minute Mentors, where I interview the most successful people - leading CEOs, founders, celebrities, athletes, etc. - on how they got to the top and how listeners can too.
Each venture was launched at a different time under different circumstances, but a commonality was - and remains - to bring value to others.
In your business’ initial years, what was the biggest thing hindering your growth and how did you fix it?
A lack of focus. We were pushing on so many different ideas that we didn't give any one idea the time, energy and focus needed to get off the ground. When we came to this realization, we took a step back and focused on the two that were closest to monetization.
At what point did you realize your business was ‘taking off’ and that you could really make money from it? What did you decide to do at that point?
My experience has been more of the tortoise than the hare. I don't know if overnight success exists, and if it does, I haven't experienced it.
With that said, an experience that stands out: relatively early on, as we were still experiencing growing pains and were anything but a household name, I went on a date with a girl who turned out to be a customer of Beverly Hills Chairs. There was no romantic connection, but it was a great date, as it illustrated to me that the business was reaching customers. I was also happy that she liked the chairs.
Editor’s Note: Love the glass-half-full interpretation here! Maybe I’ll start reframing my romantic disappointments in a more positive light... For example, I wasn’t ghosted after telling a date he ‘exudes pretty strong Bret Michaels energy’ - I simply provided someone an opportunity to rethink their bandana headband. (Okay, detour over. Back to Adam now)
A lot of founders face fears with hiring people they trust to run their business like they would. Was that an issue for you? How did you overcome it and where did you find the right people to help you grow your business?
No. On the contrary, I could not wait to bring in my replacements. If anything, I started the process too early and learned that I needed to spend more time as the day to day operator to build the business up before being in a position to bring the right people.
Talk to me about when you were seven or eight. Who did you want to be?
I wanted to run a baseball team. I am an accidental entrepreneur.
Editor's Note: Adam is a big-time Angels fan (Seinfeld fan too, as any eagle-eyed observer will spot)
Why do you think so many people fail to grow their business and what advice would you give to keep pushing despite all the setbacks?
Growing a business is extremely challenging. I think many people fail to grow their businesses because growing a business is a hard thing to do. There are many potential reasons: not having the right people, not having the right products, not having the right systems, etc. As mentioned earlier, though, success rarely if ever happens overnight. Wins are often hard-fought. If you want to play to win, you have to stay in the fight.
What do you attribute your success to?
My definition of success is different than the definition of success most people have.
What’s one piece of commonly accepted professional ‘wisdom’ you think should be thrown out?
Write a good cover letter.
What’s the book (or books) you’d give to everyone you know if you had enough copies?
The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam
Adam Mendler is the Chief Executive Officer of The Veloz Group, where he co-founded and oversees ventures across a wide variety of industries: Beverly Hills Chairs, a leading office furniture e-tailer; Custom Tobacco, a one-of-a-kind cigar customization e-commerce platform; and Veloz Solutions, a technology consulting and software development practice. Adam remains active in each portfolio company, providing strategic guidance and support. Adam also provides business thought leadership as a speaker to businesses, universities and non-profit organizations; as the host of the podcast Thirty Minute Mentors; as an expert regularly cited in national media outlets; and as an advisor, consultant, coach and board member.
Adam utilizes his professional, entrepreneurial and managerial background developed through a unique set of experiences. Adam created both the Lessons in Leadership series in Thrive Global and the Thirty Minute Mentors podcast, where he regularly elicits insights from America's top leaders. Adam has conducted over 300 one on one interviews with leading CEOs, founders, athletes, celebrities, influencers and generals / admirals. Adam has also written extensively on leadership, management, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales, having authored over 70 articles published in major media outlets including Forbes, Inc. and The Huffington Post. Adam has worked for D.E. Shaw & Co., then the largest hedge fund in the world, and for Credit Suisse; for the strategic planning groups at William Morris Endeavor and Universal Pictures; at TWC Sports Management, a leading sports agency; and on a successful presidential primary campaign. Adam has served as the Executive Producer of Virtually Israel; as a Strategic Partner and Advisor to Here Media; as a consultant to the LAUSD; and has been an advisor to the accelerator Fusion LA since its inception.
Adam graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Southern California, earning a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.A. in Political Science, and earned an M.B.A. from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he received the UCLA Anderson Fellowship Award. Adam teaches a graduate-level class at UCLA on teamwork and leadership and serves as Chairman Emeritus of the USC Alumni Entrepreneurs Network. Adam also serves on the board of the UCLA Master of Applied Statistics program; has served on numerous USC alumni boards; and is a founding member of the UCLA Anderson CEO Forum. A Los Angeles native and lifelong Angels fan, Adam loves sports, classic movies and TV, politics, physical fitness and backgammon.